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Click to view picture gallery“In 2006 Toyota sold a
  staggering 8.81 million
  vehicles worldwide.
  Their all-new Auris is
  certain to add lots more
  sales in the coming
  years...”


THIS WEEK TOYOTA has been letting the international motoring media loose on their new Auris — pronounced ow-ris — model range. Changing the name of the Corolla, the best-selling car of all time (with 32 million sold since its launch in 1966) to Auris, is a brave move. But then if you are likely to soon become the largest vehicle manufacturer in the world, taking over from GM, you can afford to be brave.

Toyota's thinking on the name change from Corolla for their new C-segment three- and five-door hatchback range is that they now have a word in Auris that is easily pronounced in all European languages.
The say the new name links naturally to Yaris and Evensis, their other core models. Auris, says Toyota, is derived from the Latin word Aurum, which means 'gold'. The Corolla brand name will continue to be used
for some models in other markets around the world, but not in the UK.

'Designed in Europe for Europe' and 'inside-out' design are the headline claims from Toyota at this week's media event. The core messages are: An all-new car, more interior space than competitor models; Headroom in line with compact MPVs; A wide range of fuel efficient engines; Renowned Toyota engineering and build quality; Low cost of ownership; Better-than-most residual values; and High Euro NCAP safety ratings. For the record, the Auris was awarded five stars for occupant protection, four stars for child occupant protection and three-stars for pedestrian safety. All models come equipped with nine airbags — including a driver's knee airbag — as standard and Isofix child seat mounts are provided in the rear.

The Auris range goes on sale in the UK on 1 February, priced from 11,995. Initially, five-door models will be available but from 1 April they will be joined by the range-topping 18,795 T180 5-door 2.2-litre diesel and three-door derivatives.

In addition to the two hatchback body styles, the Auris range is also available with a choice of 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines, 1.4, 2.0 and 2.2-litre diesel units and three transmission types: five- and six-speed manual and a new MultiMode manual/auto with Paddle Shift. There are four model grades plus an extra-value TR launch version with the option of 1.6 petrol and 2.0-litre diesel engines in three- or five-door body styles. TR prices start at 12,495.

Five-door versions of Auris — around two-thirds of all production —
are built at the Toyota Manufacturing UK factory at Burnaston, Derbyshire, alongside the Avensis range. Three-door variants are built at the Toyota Manufacturing plant in Turkey which, incidentally, also builds the Verso models.

The growth of cash-rich Toyota seems unstoppable. The Auris is a
key model range in building their European sales volumes to 1.2 million annual sales in 2008, of which the Auris range will contribute 150,000 units this year and 200,000 in 2008. Worldwide sales of Toyota vehicles grew by 9 per cent to a staggering 8.81 million in 2006, and this year the total is expected to reach 9.34 million.

In the UK, Toyota sales last year were 117,819 units with the Lexus brand adding a further 14,691 units. Toyota and Lexus UK sales for 2007 are expected to be in the region of 144,000 units. As for Corolla, last year 22,000 cars were sold in the UK and this year with the run-out of Corolla and the launch of the Auris the total should reach 25,000 and 27,000 in 2008, giving Toyota (GB) around a 5 per cent share of the C-segment.

The UK's C-segment (or lower medium sector) is highly competitive and sales declined 8.8 per cent in 2006 — more than twice the 3.9 per cent drop in the overall new car market. The Lower medium sector account-ed for 694,442 sales in 2006 — still the second largest new car seg-ment and accounting for 29 per cent of all UK new car sales. Diesel models account for 36 per cent of volume sales in the UK's C-segment.

Main sellers in this sector are the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane, VW Golf, Peugeot 307 and Honda Civic. Added competition comes from the C-segment sized MPVs headed by the Vauxhall Zafira. Toyota's 25,000 initial annual UK sales target for Auris will still see it under-perform sales-wise against other C-segment models from the
top five manufacturers.

Toyota GB executives, speaking at the international media launch of the Auris range, said they were aiming to build on the retail strength
of the previous Corolla models. However, Auris does give them an opportunity to enter the fleet and business user-chooser sectors.
Fleet sales are expected to increase from around 20 per cent with Corolla to 35 per cent of total Auris sales.

As the newcomer will remain predominately a retail car, 57 per cent of customers will be likely to choose the new 1.6VVT-I twin variable timing petrol engine whilst 17 per cent will go for the 2.0-litre D4-D
130 diesel unit. Overall, 68 per cent of customers will buy petrol models and around 19 per cent will opt for the MultiMode semi-auto trans-mission.

Feedback from customer clinics shows that customers' perceptions of the new Auris doubled once they had seen the new vehicle in real-life. Increasing public awareness of the newcomer was a priority, so Toyota is putting cars on display in public shopping areas along with eight con-cept stores around the UK to showcase the new car.

Toyota GB confirmed they are continuing their open and transparent pricing policy with Auris. The price you see is what you pay — unlike many of their competitors whose incentives to buy destroys the brand values and lowers the residual values. Customer retention is a priority and as important as appealing to new customers.

Eifion Jones, manager product planning for Toyota GB, says: "The average age of Corolla customers is currently just under 60 years
and the average for the segment is 50 to 52 years of age. Our aim
is to target younger customers, the 'twenty somethings', with our
Auris pricing and sales strategy and this will also appeal to older current owners.

"The easy cost of owning an Auris comes in the form of a three-year Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) which requires a 2,000 deposit.
The Auris T3, 1.6VVT-i five-door and likely to be the best-seller, will cost a customer 264 a month; the T3 2.0 D4-D five-door 310 and the sporty T180 three-door 383."

The core message from my first drive is 'more of the same'. Yes it is roomier that the outgoing Corolla, and the policy of 'design from the inside out' has visibly worked. The safety aspects are first rate and the space between the front and rear seats really is the best in its class. The rear seats will accommodate three adults, so it is ideal for down-sizers. As always, the five-door body is much more useful and practical in real life conditions than a three-door hatchback. The Auris's 60:40 split rear seats feature a two-position reclining mechanism and the 354-litre luggage capacity can be expanded to a massive 1,758-litre load bay by activating the one-touch tilt-down mechanism.

All models feature air conditioning, electric windows, powered and heated door mirrors, remote central locking and a sound system with
a CD player that can play digital music files stored on disc. The T3 version tested here also has 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 205/55 tyres, front fog lamps, leather trim on the steering wheel and gear shift knob, audio controls on the steering wheel. Active safety features include ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) with Brake Assist (BA) fitted as standard on all versions.

The unusual 'flying buttress' style centre consol is not so acceptable. Yes, it is distinctive, even unusual. But it takes up storage space
and places to store items are minimal. The facia design follows the sweeping curved and rounded style used in the Yaris. The design is fine; it is just that the finish is in rigid plastic which feels cheap and unwelcoming. Some of the controls and switchgear also feel down-market. The front seat squabs are small and offer little support, but having a higher seating position with MPV-type headroom does make for excellent exterior visibility.

There is no doubt about the engineering and build qualities, both traditional Toyota strengths. And there is nothing to offend current Corolla owners — they will I am sure, love it, and the sharpened-
up exterior styling will look smart on the driveways of homes through-out the UK. It is just a shame that such an important new car really brings nothing new to the market.

As for driveability, it is good but is it good enough? It does most things acceptably well but the Auris is not class-leading. The 4-cylinder,
1.6-litre petrol engine with dual variable valve timing is so quiet at
tick-over you forget the car is running, and it revs very freely when under way. This unit is gives 116lb ft of torque at 5,200rpm and it is very flexible and able to run at low speed in high gears. However, for acceleration in the mid-range, its 122bhp leaves the Auris wanting if you try to pass slow moving traffic.

The diesel units will be a better proposition for driving quality and fuel consumption. For the record, driven carefully the 1.6-litre VVT petrol unit returns 39.8mpg. Urban and Extra-urban consumption is given as, respectively, 31.4 and 47.9mpg. Roadholding is reasonable but, in my opinion, it cannot match the Focus or the Golf. The new electric power steering is well-weighted and gives good feedback to the driver.

The five-speed gearbox on this model is slick and the close-to-hand facia-mounted gearlever is nice and precise to use, if positioned a tad too high.

So, there we have it. Against? While it does most things well enough,
it lacks the excitement and sparkle to make any real impact against others as mentioned. I'm just a little disappointed it does not offer a more rewarding drive and that some of the interior finishes could be better. Maybe I had expected too much from this very important new car from the very successful Toyota brand but, on the plus side, the new Auris offers excellent interior space. It's also well engineered, solid, reliable and well equipped, is good value for money with low costs of ownership and provides high levels of safety. Just about everything real customers want. — David Miles

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Toyota Auris T3 1.6 Dual VVT-i 5-door | 13,995
Maximum speed: 118mph | 0-62mph: 10.4 seconds
39.8mpg | Power: 122bhp | Torque: 116lb ft

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